Trio of downtown businesses seeks grants

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, November 14, 2019

Two existing downtown businesses and one being proposed are seeking grant money through the Economic Development Authority, though its staff is recommending just one for approval — with a caveat.

EDA staff is recommending that only the new business — the Wall Street Café set to go at 118 W. Washington St. — receive the $15,000 in available state grant money.

However, Assistant Economic Development Director Gregory Byrd told the authority’s board at its Wednesday meeting that he plans to outline another local grant program next month that would work for the other two businesses that were also seeking the $15,000 state grant. It would also work, potentially, for retail businesses and restaurants seeking to create more volume downtown.

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The local program, which is being modeled after one from the state, would be available to help the other two downtown businesses that were also seeking the state grant — The Plaid Turnip at 115 N. Main St. and General Public at 208 E. Washington St., near Nansemond Brewing Station.

About a year ago, the EDA received a $45,000 grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, with very specific requirements for how it could be used.

The city identified uses for $30,000 of the money, Byrd said, while two businesses that were to receive the remaining $15,000 decided the timing was not right. The leftover state grant money is now available for one of the three businesses now seeking it.

In the EDA’s current budget, it has set aside money for a local program that would use the state’s as a model and do something similar.

Byrd said the owners of Wall Street Café are proposing a two-tiered, and two-story, business. The first floor of the business would operate much like a traditional coffee shop, and then the second floor would be more akin to a real estate office that would also offer stock market expertise. He said the goal of the business is to be operational by February 2020.

Their plans for the grant money, according to Byrd, would be to use it for real estate, furniture and fixtures, equipment and working capital.

The Plaid Turnip is looking to add outdoor seating and start its own delivery service, Byrd said. While it uses DoorDash for its deliveries now, Byrd said the business wants to have more control over deliveries. General Public, meanwhile, plans to build out its bar and storage areas.

“Our recommendation is this: finish the state program with the Wall Street Café,” Byrd said. “There’s time to finish that with diligence, wrap it up and meet all of the requirements.”

Two additional businesses were seeking the $15,000, but for one of the applicants, Byrd said that business was not quite ready but could be down the road. The other, a proposed restaurant called High Tide, plans to locate at 130 Commerce St., outside the area the state requires for a business to be eligible for its grant money.

“We’ve tried, prior to that purchase, under other circumstances, to get a waiver for that location, but was unsuccessful,” Byrd said.

He said High Tide is in the process of renovating its building, and could be eligible for some kind of grant money in the future.

Byrd told the board he would come back to them at next month’s meeting and provide recommendations on the new local grant program — possible dollar limitations, the frequency a business could receive a grant and where that business would need to be located to receive the grant. He likened it to the current façade grant program in place.

“We’re evaluating how to use those dollars based upon lessons learned from the state,” Byrd said. “But the state grant and their rules allowed us the opportunity to walk before we run, if you will, and observe how they do it, what things work best.

“Then, really, one of the challenges, primarily, is that the state had a very specific corridor … within which a business had to locate. And we found that for some other businesses based upon where the business opportunities were, that was a little more limiting than we wanted to be. We’re still deliberating on that, how broad to make that.”